16 Songs About Nightmares You Hate to Love
Songs about nightmares are often self-explanatory, immediately calling to mind Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” Alice Cooper’s “Welcome to my Nightmare,” and various horror movie soundtracks by the likes of Bernard Herman, and John Carpenter. This list will have a few of those, but we’ll also cover the songs about unsettling dreams that go beyond the mainstream staples most are familiar with.
Songs About Nightmares
1. Foreclosure of a Dream – Megadeth
“Foreclosure of a Dream,” from Megadeth’s fifth album, Countdown to Extinction, does not have a traditional nightmare theme. Instead, according to the band, it concerns itself with Regan-era policies that allowed corporations to exploit farmers and landowners. These abuses led to many heartland residents being forced from their homes, tragedies with generational implications.
“Barren land that once filled a need
Are worthless now, dead without a deed
Slipping away from an iron grip
Nature’s scales are forced to tip”
2. Death of Sound – Avatar
Self-described “heavy metal circus” Avatar are no strangers to fantastical themes and theatrics. Music journalist Miss Mephistopheles writes that Avatar’s “sinister sideshow appearance” is only part of the story, touting their ability to “marry brutal death metal riffs with sweet melodic tunes.” You don’t need to look far for the proof of that.
“Death of Sound” comes from Avatar’s 2014 album, Hail the Apocalypse. A song about sinking to the bottom of the sea and living long enough to hear life slip away.
“Let the death of sound
Sing the end of time
By a promise bound
To the water…”
3. Lazarus – David Bowie
“Lazarus” was the last single released in David Bowie’s lifetime. The album it’s from, Blackstar, was recorded in secret shortly after he’d made the decision to stop cancer treatment. It was released two days before Bowie’s death in January 2016, on what would have been his 69th birthday.
“Lazarus” is an epitaph; narrated by a man at peace with his fate, and at the end of a glorious life in which he lived like a king. He sees the anguish of his loved ones. He understands his death might seem like a nightmare to them, but he wants them not to worry.
“Look up here, I’m in heaven
I’ve got scars that can’t be seen
I’ve got drama, can’t be stolen
Everybody knows me now.”
It’s difficult to imagine this song not being autobiographical. Though, surprisingly simple to imagine David Bowie as a celestial troubadour clumsily dropping his cell phone, then giving us a wink.
4. Shore Lined Poison – Skinny Puppy
Skinny Puppy does not make comfortable, silvery music. Some may find their electro-industrial noise-rock more nightmare fuel than reverie, which isn’t hard to imagine being Skinny Puppy’s ultimate objective.
“Shore Lined Poison” is from the band’s 1990 album Too Dark Park, which featured a Lovecraft-inspired cover by underground punk artist Jimmy Cummins aka “I, Braineater.” If you’re just learning all of this, I’ve got two words for you: sleep tight!
“Vaporize case in point and deserving it
Vaccinate all stranger than whispering
Crushed velvet corpse grinder… awaiting underneath
And returning to the earth.”
5. Kyoto Song – The Cure
With a musical catalog drenched in gothic horror and misery, the Cure brings creepiness with them everywhere. It’s inescapable, which Cure fans don’t mind one bit. “Kyoto Song” is one of the Cure’s most heartbreaking moments.
Bandleader Robert Smith has said “Kyoto Song” was inspired by a nightmare he had of his wife drowning. Some have suggested the song really describes a dream either Smith or his wife had about cannibalism. I don’t think the music is violent enough to fit a theory involving the eating of people, but either way, the song is terrifying.
“A nightmare of you
Of death in the pool
Wakes me up at quarter to three
I’m lying on the floor of the night before
With a stranger lying next to me.”
6. Outnumbering the Day – Bloodbath
Bloodbath is a Swedish death metal supergroup with a revolving cast of players. Their album Nightmares Made Flesh was released in 2005 and, along with songs like “Soul Evisceration,” “Draped in Disease,” and “Feeding the Undead,” “Outnumbering the Day” screams bloodthirsty savagery from the first note to the last.
It advertises a post-apocalyptic landscape ravaged by fire, flood, and human foolishness leaving the earth entirely populated by zombies. A nightmare, indeed!
“When the sky turns black and nature’s sounds go mute
The dead walk the Earth’s last round, outnumbering the day
All light peels away in the flickering sway
Of the sun’s last ray
When the rats flee off this sinking ship called ‘Earth’
The world stops turning as time dies, outnumbering the day
All the air blows cold, as the damp mold
Cover more than only our old.”
7. Meet the Creeper – Rob Zombie
After eight years and four albums with White Zombie, main maniac Rob Zombie released his first solo album, Hellbilly Deluxe in 1998. This started a traveling horror show and slasher film extravaganza that continues to this day.
Nothing about Rob Zombie is terribly complicated, which is certainly liable for a large part of his success in both the heavy metal and horror movie realms. “Meet the Creeper” is a straightforward monster movie of a tune with devilishly irresistible sing-along features.
“Creature core – you can’t ignore
I got five thousand fingers of dead
Rats are we – you can’t break free
When they’re livin’ on your breath
Meet the Creeper!
8. Goat Vomit Nightmare – Hellripper
After visiting the torture chambers of Bloodbath and Rob Zombie, I thought it might be a good time to slow down a little. But… I just couldn’t resist mentioning this flowery tale of downy mammals by Hellripper called “Goat Vomit Nightmare.”
These are not the kind of goats you want to keep on your farm, in case that wasn’t already clear. These are evil goats from an album called Warlocks Grim & Withered Hags.
“Eyes on the brae, sin guides the way
Veiled in the fuzz of the night
Secrets that crawl from the black womb beyond
Unlocked with clairvoyant might.”
9. Empathy With the Devil – The Tear Garden
Using elements of industrial, electronic, and psychedelic music mixed with deeply accented poetry, The Tear Garden generates a fascinating sound. On the band’s second album, The Last Man To Fly (1992), cinematic soundscapes flourish in both broad and petite bursts that take the listener to mansions unimagined.
“Empathy with the Devil” is situated about halfway through the record and, with an ominous sonorousness, narrates a laundry list of frightful notions. That this is the voice of Satan exposed isn’t relative to proving the existence of evil, of course. The song points out the subtleties of wickedness in things like subliminal advertisements for maggot-scented perfume or standing naked in the bitter chill of winter.
“A gargoyle hand jives
For the hard of hearing
Phony businessmen in thick-rimmed glasses
Laughing bags aping the Hallelujah Chorus
The forgotten version
Out of key (slightly)
Just enough to annoy you.”
10. You Want It Darker – Leonard Cohen
I read an article in The Herald called “I’d Happily Take a Longer Life with Porridge – Only if it Means these Leonard Cohen Nightmares Go Away.” The author writes about having a nightmare that placed him at Carnegie Hall in the body of Leonard Cohen. As the audience grew louder, his panic intensified, as he couldn’t remember any Leonard Cohen songs.
“For a horrible moment, I convince myself I can do this,” he writes, “I can be Leonard Cohen if I want to, as long as I keep my mouth shut and do not attempt to play the guitar, which I’m incapable of doing anyway.” In the dream, the author runs away terrified, then wakes up in a pool of sweat.
When I read this, I could almost hear Leonard Cohen taunting him with “You Want it Darker.”
“They’re lining up to prisoners
And the guards are taking aim
I struggle with some demons
They were middle class and tame
I didn’t know I had permission
To murder and to maim
You want it darker…
I’m ready, my Lord.”
11. Been Smoking Too Long – Nick Drake
“Been Smoking too Long” was written by Robin Frederick in 1966 as an anti-drug song. Years later,” Frederick wrote about Nick Drake, “when I heard his home recording, I realized he had changed a line. ‘Got the marijuana blues’ became ‘Got no other life to choose’ – a fatalistic turn of phrase that strikes me as very like him.”
Plagued by chronic depression and crushing insecurity, Nick Drake accidentally overdosed on the antidepressant Amitriptyline and passed away at the age of 26. The tragedy of his passing heightens the haunting nature of the song.
“I’ve got opium in my chimney
No other life to choose
Nightmare made of hash dreams.
Got the devil in my shoes.”
12. No Man Can Find the War – Tim Buckley
A contemporary of artists like Bert Jansch, Nick Drake, and Roy Harper, Tim Buckley had songwriting chops that rivaled the likes of Donovan and Bob Dylan. Buckley was well-regarded in avant-garde folk circles, releasing nine studio albums between 1966-1974, but never quite achieved mainstream success.
The likelihood that his underground icon status could have ballooned without limit was sadly never put to the test. Tim Buckley died of a heroin and morphine overdose in 1975. He was 28 years old.
Compounded by his tragic early death, the sound of Buckley’s voice can haunt even the most joyous of occasions. Regarding songs about nightmares, almost any song in Buckley’s cannon would do the trick. “No Man Can Find the War” points to a certain tragic timelessness that suits the present purpose.
“Humans weep at human death
All the talkers lose their breath
Movies paint a chaos tale
Singers see and poets wail
All the world knows the score
But no man can find the war.”
13. Talkin’ World War III Blues – Bob Dylan
No songwriter from the last 60 years of recorded music can sing a story as effectively as Bob Dylan. His second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, contained the classic tracks “Blowin’ in the Wind,” and “A Hard Rains’ A-Gonna Fall,” and launched Dylan’s popularity into the stratosphere.
Released shortly after the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1963, “Talkin’ World War III Blues” was another popular tune from The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan and has since remained the topic of frequent discussion and debate. The lyrics echo national anxieties about looming nuclear devastation, which is sadly no less prevalent today.
“Well, now time passed and now it seems
Everybody’s having them dreams
Everybody sees themselves
Walkin’ around with no one else
Half the people can part right all of the time and
Some of the people can be all right part of the time
But all of the people can’t be all right all of the time.
I think Abraham Lincoln said that.
‘I’ll let you be in my dreams if I can be in yours.’
I said that.”
14. The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness – The National
Matt Berninger, songwriter and vocalist for the Midwest indie pop band The National, simply describes “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness” as “an abstract portrait of the weird time we’re in.” Specifically, the United States post-2016, which no one can deny has been somewhat nightmarish.
The song laments an easily fooled and corrupted ideology, most often pushed and sold by politicians and religious groups, and how that can corrupt even the closest relationships. This is not a strictly contemporary worldview, of course. Countless previously happy homes have been demoralized by supposed authenticity over the centuries. Encouraging familial and neighborly divisions, as the adage goes, the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer.
“I thought that this would all work out after a while
Now you’re saying that I’m asking for too much attention
Also, no other faith is light enough for this place
We said we’d only die of lonely secrets
The system only dreams in total darkness
Why are you hiding from me?
We’re in a different kind of thing now
All night you’re talking to God.”
15. I Had a Dream, Joe – Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Here we have a song written by the always-reliable Nick Cave. “I Had A Dream, Joe” is from the seventh Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds album, Henry’s Dream, which was generally well received upon its release in 1992.
“I Had A Dream, Joe” was a single from the album, largely inspired by the time Cave spent living in Brazil. The song, while leaning toward a jovial tone, maintains an agitated amusement park-like temp, thanks in large part to Cave’s grizzly-suave vocal delivery.
“On that endless, on that senseless, on that demented drift
(Where did you go, Joe?)
Was it into the woods, was it into the trees, where you move and shift
(Where did you go, Joe?)
All dressed up in your ridiculous seersucker suit
(Where did you go, Joe?)
With that strew of wreckage
Forever at the heel of your boot.”
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16. See You in My Nightmares – Kanye West
It would’ve been hard to not include this jam off of Kanye’s modern classic “808s and Heartbreak.” This is definitely going to be one of the most heartbreakingly catchy songs about nightmares you’ll ever find.
On this track, Kanye had his heart broken by a woman, and he’s struggling to get her out of his mind. But even when he’s successful in pushing her out of his thoughts during the day, it’s the nighttime that proves to be the biggest problem.
When it’s time to go to sleep, she appears in his dreams—thus turning his dreams into nightmares.
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